'Westcoaster' Melbourne to Hobart

Race Information

Distance 435nm
Safety Category 2
Stary Location Portsea Pier
Start Time 1430 AEST
Start Date 27 Dec 21
Race Record

1d 17h 28m 59s  Shortwave 2008

Ave Speed over course 10.49kn


Melbourne to Hobart Race Map

About the Race

The  ORCV “Westcoaster” is a legendary yacht race where tactics and sailing well can crown you as the race champion, no matter the size of boat. 

Across the 435nm passage, yachts contend first with Bass Strait before taking on the wilderness and ruggness of the West Coast of Tasmania and the long ocean swell of the Southern Ocean before turning towards the finish line and the shifting winds of the Derwent.

For close on 50 years, the Westcoaster has provided sailors a unique race full of tactical challenges.


"35 times but never been the same race"  Robin Hewitt

 "It's a mind race, as much as it's a physical race" Rod Smallman


Race Documents - Click here
Race Entry - Click here
Yachts Entered - Click here
Results - Coming soon


The Westcoast Challenge

The Melbourne to Hobart Westcoaster is a blue water ocean racing classic of unusual challenge in which seamanship, navigation and tactical skills drive the race outcome. Skippers and crews face  diverse conditions of sea state and tide uniquely associated with Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean plus wind conditions which normally include all points of sailing.


This is a race run by yachties for yachties - great sailors working hard to earn the right to wear the yellow cap of a West Coast racer. Its one of the few blue water races open to two handed competitors. 9 boats competing in the “double handed” division last year, and this season short handed racing with autohelm plus a maximum of 4 crew is permitted against fully crewed yachts.   
This diversity of racing conditions reinforces the integrity of handicap systems and, as the past winner’s list demonstrates, it’s an open competition. Good boat preparation and a well found yacht are the key requirements  -  deep pockets are not required in this race which offers, at best, limited advantage from race specific yacht design.

The race starts at Portsea on the last of the outgoing tide with yachts completing the dash to Port Philip Heads, past Lonsdale Reef and clearing the potentially breaking seas at the entrance of Port Phillip Bay before the change of tide. This is the start of the 125 nautical mile Bass Strait crossing heading due south.

Bass Strait’s description as a “notorious piece of water” reflects the choppy and confused waves generated by the Strait’s relatively shallow depth and strong tidal flows  -  between the southern end of King Island and the Mainland, along the eastern side of King Island and between King Island and the NW corner of Tasmania.

For the yachtsmen the tidal flows between the top of King Island and  North West Tasmania are crucial and may affect a yachts race time by as much as 4 hours. The gap is some 35 miles wide and lies diagonally across the shortest course. The navigational objective is to choose a course which maximises speed over the ground allowing for the tidal effects through the gap and wind shifts if one passes close to the north west corner of Tasmania. Its not easy as the transit must be planned hours ahead. If night sailing is involved there are also one or two reefs to consider.

Once through the King Island gap and past the Hally Bayley and Porpoise shoals, (where breakers may be encountered) it’s a whole new world - ocean sailing in long swells, often reaching under spinnaker heading east of west with prevailing westerly winds.

The run down the coast to South West cape is 200NM past Macquarie harbour and the increasingly rugged terrain of Tasmania’s South west. If conditions are light, yachts may pass close inshore to seek advantage of local wind effects.

In other conditions the West Coast may be an altogether story. The south west coasts of Africa and Tasmania have something in common  - they both experience large swells originating in the deep South on which, in the case of Tasmania, substantial front induced waves may be superimposed. It may be blowing a steady 35kn with seas of up to 10m – although 5m long wave length swell is more the norm.

In these conditions the 40 nautical mile leg from West Cape due east past Maatsuyker Island to South East Cape can be nothing short of spectacular with many yachts surfing under “storm spinnakers” before heading north of East to Bruny Island and into the relatively sheltered waters of Storm Bay.

Its around 35 nm from Tasman Head at the bottom of Bruny Island to the Iron Pot and then a further 11 nm to the finish. Here the race is all about tactics and trimming and crews who “get this stage of the race right” may well pick up hours against their competitors. The high headlands of Bruny Island area abound in wind shadows and conditions in the last few miles up the Derwent can be complex.

The warmest of welcomes awaits the finishers at the Elizabeth Street Pier. It is a point of honour in this race that no yacht finishes unheralded and many a yachty has been roused from the local watering holes or comfy berth to meet late night or early morning finishers. Somehow a cold slab is always produced no matter what the time and the previous finishers raise three cheers in honour of the crew.




Westcoaster History

The 435 nautical mile blue-water classic Melbourne to Hobart Yacht Race was the brainchild of Stan Gibson from Hobson’s Bay Yacht Club in Melbourne and Dr Joe Cannon at Derwent Sailing Squadron in Hobart. It was intended as a challenging alternative for Victorian and South Australian sailors who wanted to be in Hobart for the celebrations but did not want the logistical hassle of getting the yacht up to Sydney to compete in the Sydney to Hobart.

The then fearsome reputation of the west coast of Tasmania ensured that the proposed new race was viewed with scepticism by the local yachting community. However, Stan Gibson’s analysis of the summer weather patterns along the west coast overcame the critics and Donald Trescowthick (subsequently Sir Donald KBE) sponsored the event and donated the Heemskerk Perpetual trophy.

The inaugural 1972 race attracted 15 entries and support for the race increased steadily over the next 20 years with typical fleet sizes of 20 – 30 boats throughout the 1980’s. The fleet record of 65 yachts was reached in 1996 .

By today’s standards, the race was a “big budget affair” in its early years with financial support from both the Victorian and Tasmanian Governments and commercial sponsors - and this was reflected on trophy night. In additional to the Perpetual trophies, still awarded today, in the 1970’s prizes included gold and silver ingots and sovereigns. In 1976 these were upgraded to include  “gold plated solid silver ingots hand painted by Pro Hart” for each major place getter. The three main ingots were approximately the same length as a house brick and the painting was described by Pro Hart as the most detailed work he had ever done. The NOR at the time valued these trophies at $25,000  - including $1,500 for each of the 4 Pro Hart paintings. They got that wrong!   

Now in its 47th year, the race has a proven and enviable safety record. More than 900 yachts and some 7000 crew have competed in the event without major incident. There is no doubt that the weather can be difficult and there are numerous accounts in the race history strong 50 – 60 knot (100 kph) winds for periods of 3 or 4 hours associated with passing fronts. In these conditions its not easy and the Westcoaster safety record is a tribute to the careful preparation of the crews and to the careful race management and training programs put in place by the ORCV.

In most years, race retirements are limited to only 1 or 2 boats but the record shows 4 years when one third or more of the fleet have not been able to finish the race – and this highlights a different aspect to the challenge. In both 1981 when 12 of the 30 starters retired and  2004 when only 4 boats finished, the problem was lack of wind. In the third year, 1998,  eight of the 25 entrants elected not to start, doubtless influenced by the difficulties experienced by the Sydney Hobart Fleet that year but 15 of the 17 starters successfully finished the race.

Then came 1999, undoubtedly the most challenging race, with Nigel Jones and his crew on “Cadabarra 7” being the only boat to finish out of 20 yachts. The race started in light 10 – 15kn conditions but with an approaching low-pressure system promising difficult conditions. Cadibarra took the unusual decision to sail to the west of King Island, thus avoiding rough conditions which could be expected in the gap between King Island and NW Tasmania. By morning  Cadabarra was west of King Island, the wind had shifted south and strengthened to 25 Kn. The wind continued to strengthen throughout the day – 30kn by nightfall with 3m seas, gusting to 45 kn by the morning of day 3. With wind and 5m seas  “bang on the nose” progress was slow and remained uncomfortable until the next morning. After 40 hours sailing, the worst of the low-pressure system had passed, the wind abated and shifted west.  South West Cape (around 100 nm from the finish) was rounded by lunch time, first hot meal for a while, spinnaker up and a dash across the bottom of Tasmania at 10 – 18 knots. The finish - 2am on Day 4 after 3 days ands 14 hours.  Not dangerous but challenging. That’s the Westcoaster.

The honour of being the first two crewed yachtsman to complete the race  was Simon Kellett’s “ bobby Dazzler who finished 20th overall in 1990 out of a fleet of 36. Entries since then have been spasmodic but autohelm and navigation technology is improving and two-handed racing in the Westcoaster is actively encouraged. There were 10 “double handed” entries in the 2017 Westcoaster which is a qualifying event for the Melbourne – Osaka Race and they performed well. Magique (Maurice Contessi & Martin Vaughan) finished second overall in AMS taking out the Sovereign Series against the fully crewed fleet and Kraken (Todd Giraudo  &  David White) second in IRC. 


Melbourne to Hobart Westcoaster Past Results

The Heemskirk trophy is awarded to the overall winner of the Westcoaster on corrected time using the measurement handicap system with the largest number of entries. Measurement handicap systems have evolved through time. In the past 20 years the most popular measurement handicap systems used in Victoria have been the International Measurement System (IMS), The International Measurement System (IRC) and the Australian Measurement System (AMS). For the past 4 years the overall winner has competed under both IRC and AMS rating systems and has been the leader in both of the Measurement Handicap Divisions. Results since 1999 are given below.


Heemskirk Trophy


 Overall Winners

2020 -   - -
2019 Archie SM35  Jeff Sloan 1st AMS, 1st IRC
2018 Whistler L77 David Alpin 1st AMS, 1st IRC
2017 Alien R880 Justin Brenan 1st AMS, 1st IRC
2016 Cadabarra 8 R420 Paul Roberts 1st AMS, 1st IRC
2015 eXtasea  G4646 Paul Buchholz     1st AMS, 1st IRC
2014 Seduction M406 Richard Nichols  1st AMS, 1st IRC
2013 Tevake II H101 Angus Fletcher   1st AMS, dnc IRC
2012 Tevake II H101 Angus Fletcher   1st AMS, dnc IRC
2011 Alien       R880 Justin Brenan 1st AMS, 2nd IRC
2010 Enchantress SA346 John Muirhead 1st AMS, 1st IRC
2009 Alien       R880 Justin Brenan 1st AMS, 2nd IRC
2008 Shortwave           52052 Mathew Short 1st AMS, 1st IRC   Record Time
2007 Race not run      
2006 A Crewed Interest SM8008 Eddie Ragauskas/ Martin Vaughan Ist AMS, Ist IRC
2005 Quetzalcoatl 2001 Joshua Ey dnc AMS, 1st IRC
2004 Under Capricorn B120 Phil Bedlington   1st AMS, 1st IRC
2003 Wavelength SM220 Keith O’Donnell  1st AMS, dnc IRC
2002 De Je Blue H621 John Nielson 1st AMS, dnc IRC
2001 Island Trader SM7681 John Chatham 1st AMS, 2nd IRC
2000 Tevake  H101 Angus Fletcher 1st AMS, dnc IMS
1999 Cadabarra 7   Nigel Jones Only boat to finish

Between 1972 and 1999 the Heemskirk trophy was awarded to the winner under the premier handicapping system of the day  but the handicapping systems varied and the system applied in any given year was not necessarily in common use nor system with the most entries.                                                   

The Overall winners in this period are listed below.

1998 Back in Business M Sabey 1984 Eastern Morning A J Collins
1997 Island Trader J Chatham 1983 Morning Hustler J H Cowell
1996 Brighton Star D Gotze 1982 Solandra W Escott
1995 Second Term Ian Twentyman 1981 Apollo II J Becher
1994 Scarborough of Cerebus P Briggs 1980 Relentless Niel Searle
1993 By Order of the Secretary F Billings/J Collins 1979 Hot Prospect Niel Searle
1992 Quit for Life J Saul 1978 Hot Prospect Jim Searle
1991 Friction C Laker 1977 Hot Prospect Jim Searl
1990 Paladin Njones/P Sajet 1976 Monsoon J Atwood
1989 Hummingbird R Abikhair 1975 Rovama B J Mercere
1988 Prime Suspect R Abikhair 1974 Pagan R Hare
1987 Challemge 3 E W Wall-Smith 1973 Appaloosa R T Spence
1986 Seaulater P Gourlay 1972 Ailsa J Marion
1985 Solandra R Escott      


    Results by Division    
  AMS IRC Performance Line Honours
2019 Archie - J Sloan Archie - J Sloan Soiree Bleu - D Lithgow Lord Jiminy - G Leroux
2018 Whistler - D Alpin Whistler - D Alpin Whistler - D Alpin Oskana - M Pritchard
2017 Alien - J Brenan Alien - J Brenan Force 11 - Triston Goulay/ Jamie Cooper Spirit of Downunder - L Ford
2016 Cadibarra 8 - P Roberts Cadibarra 8 - P Roberts Cadibarra 8 - P Roberts Cadibarra 8 - P Roberts
2015 eXtasea - P Buchholz eXtasea - P Buchholz eXtasea - P Buchholz eXtasea - P Buchholz
2014 Seduction - R  Nochols Seduction - R  Nochols Seduction - R  Nochols Spirit of Downunder - L Ford
2013 Tevake II - A Fletcher eXtasea - P Buchholz Tevake II - A Fletcher eXtasea - P Buchholz
2012 Tevake II - A Fletcher Bandit - A Trebilcock Tevake II - A Fletcher eXtasea - P Buchholz
2011 Alien - J Brenan eXtasea - P Buchholz Alien - J Brenan eXtasea - P Buchholz
2010 Enchantress - J Muihead Enchantress - J Muihead Enchantress - J Muihead Gusto - Briar Pattinson
2009 Alien - J Brenan Jazz Player - A Lawrence Jazz Player - A Lawrence Jazz Player - A Lawrence
2008 Tevake II - A Fletcher Shortwave - M Short Spirit of Downunder - L Ford Shortwave - M Short
2007 Rudder Cup Centenary - Melbourne Hobart run via Eastcoast only      
2006 A Crewed Interest -E Ragauskas /M Vaughan A Crewed Interest -E Ragauskas /M Vaughan A Crewed Interest -E Ragauskas /M Vaughan No Fearr - M Hannaford
2005 Tevake II - A Fletcher Quetzalcoatal - J Ey By Order of the Secretary - G Shaw Helsal II - B Rawson
2004 Under Capricorn - P Bedlington Under Capricorn - P Bedlington Under Capricorn - P Bedlington Quetzalcoatal - J Ey
2003 Wavelengtth - J McGill Magazan 53 - G Roswell Rumbeat - G Henderson Indic Merit - D Gotze/I Treleaven
2002 De Ja Blue - J Nielsen Magazan 53 - N McGuigan De Ja Blue - J Nielsen Kontrol - P Blake
2001 Island Trader - J Chatham Anaconda - M Contessi San Miguel - G Clapham Kontrol - P Blake
2000 Tevake - A Fletcher Colour Solutions* - J Kellett Anaconda - M Contessi Wild One - g Smith
1999 Cadabarra 7 - N Jones Cadabarra 7* - N Jones Cadabarra 7 - N Jones Cadabarra 7 - N Jones
    * IMS - IRC introduced in 2001    
    Both IRC and IMS run in 2001 - IMS won by Tilting at Windmills* - T Gunnersen    


 Westcoaster – The Cruise Home

For crew on fixed timelines, flights are cheap……  but for those in the know it’s the west coast cruise. Its not the “trip of a life time” but only because those who do it nearly always come back again.

After a boisterous 5 or five days in Hobart its best to start with a leisurely sail down the Derwent, into the D’entrecasteaux Channel and a sheltered anchorage along Bruny Island or perhaps Kettering which offers visitor berths and an excellent hotel. One could dawdle “in the channel” on the Huon River or perhaps at Dover, but the wilderness beckons and the real stepping off point is Recherche Bay some 37 miles from Kettering. Beyond that point its World Heritage country.

Arriving at Recherche Bay the main anchorage is not obvious. There is a small, picturesque lagoon at the eastern end of the Bay - its unceremoniously known as “the Pigsties” an is entered with care on the starboard side of Shag Rock. However, most of the fleet and the local fishermen are usually found in Rocky Bay with its pristine beaches at the Southern side of the Bay.

Recherche Bay


The next leg of the cruise, 65 miles, offers spectacular scenery – past
 SE Cape, either around or to the North of Maatsuyker Island, past SW Cape , the Pyramids and into Port Davey, usually stopping before sunset at one of the numerous anchorages at the start of Bathurst Channel.  


 South west Cape on a calm day  Approach to Port Davey
 SWcape  PortDaveyApproach

.where extra supplies are sometimes are available, the barter system works well



The trip down the Channel to Bathurst Harbour must be seen to be believed ….  expect to stay a few days before heading North for a little civilisation


Bathurst Channel Bathurst Habour
BathhurstChannel BathhurstHarbour


Melaleuca Inlet

Melaleuca Inlet


Port Davey to Macquarie Harbour is a full day’s sail (90nm) so its up anchor at first light.  Hell’s Gates, the entrance to Macquarie Harbour, was named to reflect the conditions at the Penal Settlements and Sarah Island in particular. Nonetheless the entrance is not suitable for yachts in all conditions so before heading North check the weather – S, SW or West are fine, but the entrance should not be attempted when there is a large swell running from the west (ie over 5m) or when the wind is from the North. Conditions are available on the web.


Cape Sorrell Shelters the entrance Macquarie Harbour from South and West 

Hell’s gates – the entrance to Macquarie
Capesorell Hellsgates

Once in Macquarie Harbour its Straughn for “fuel and refreshment” then across Macquarie Harbour to the Gordon River for a few days of rejuvenation.



The Gordon is navigable without difficulty all the way up to the St John’s Falls (30 odd miles) – and the commercial tourist boats are not permitted beyond the lower reaches. A greenies and photographer’s paradise – Huon and Celery Top pine, tranquillity and the best reflections known to man. 

 Dawn in the Gordon River Great reflections in the Gordon River
GordonRiverSunrise GordonRiverReflection


Leaving the river and Macquarie Harbour, one heads north  - perhaps the Hunter Islands if the wind is fair, or overnight to King Island (140nm) and then on to Port Phillip -  hopefully at 8kn–10kn with the prevailing South westerly breeze.

Allow 10 - 12 days for the trip if you want to do it in style

Grassy King Island

Written and pictures by Justin Brenan production assistance by Simon Dryden